It’s back to school time for kids. That means new clothes, new school supplies, new friends, and unfortunately, new dangers for young students. Now more than ever, students are using the Internet as part of their studies in school and at home. Whether it is a smart phone, desktop computer, tablet or even gaming device, young people are accessing the Internet continually throughout their day. And, for every second they are surfing the web, there are dangers lurking.
The Internet offers many opportunities for young people. It is a gateway to exciting new opportunities and allows young people to expand their horizons far beyond their neighborhood. But, it can also be a place of danger. That is why we need to ensure the Internet is a safe and secure environment for our young people. Just as we teach our children to not talk to strangers, be aware of dangers in our community, and what to do if someone bullies them in person, we must address those dangers online.
Even the most tech-savvy kids and adults need to understand that not everything they see on the Internet is true, that people on the Internet may not be who they appear to be, that information or images they share can be seen far and wide, and that once something is posted online, it’s almost impossible to “take it back.”
The best way to protect your kids online is to talk to them. When children want important information, most rely on their parents. Children value the opinions of their peers, but tend to rely on their parents for help on the issues that matter most.
The Federal Trade Commission’s OnGuardOnline.gov initiative provides specific tips for parents on what to say to kids about Internet safety:
After all, even toddlers see their parents use all kinds of devices. As soon as your child is using a computer, a cell phone, or any mobile device, it's time to talk to them about online behavior, safety and security. As a parent, you have the opportunity to talk to your kid about what's important before anyone else does.
Even if your kids are comfortable approaching you, don't wait for them to start the conversation. Use everyday opportunities to talk to your kids about being online. For instance, a TV program featuring a teen online or using a cell phone can tee up a discussion about what to do — or not — in similar circumstances. And news stories about internet scams or cyberbullying can help you start a conversation about your kids’ experiences and your expectations.
Create an honest, open environment.
Kids look to their parents to help guide them. Be supportive and positive. Listening and taking their feelings into account helps keep conversation afloat. You may not have all the answers, and being honest about that can go a long way.
Communicate your values.
Be upfront about your values and how they apply in an online context. Communicating your values clearly can help your kids make smarter and more thoughtful decisions when they face tricky situations.
Resist the urge to rush through conversations with your kids. Most kids need to hear information repeated, and in small doses, for it to sink in. If you keep talking with your kids, your patience and persistence will pay off in the long run. Work hard to keep the lines of communication open, even if you learn your child has done something online you find inappropriate.
There are many useful resources available to parents from conversation starters and Internet use contracts between parents and kids to online monitoring software to see exactly what your children are doing online. Two very helpful ones are the FTC’s OnGuardOnline at www.onguardonline.gov and the Center for Missing and Exploited Children, at www.missingkids.com.
The Internet is creating a world that is more open and connected, enabling people to share the most important parts of their lives with families, friends and communities. In this new world, parents have a very important role in making sure that children are safe from online dangers and learn how to make informed choices about how they connect and share.